Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Ohlone Wilderness 50K: Chasing... myself!

[More pictures from Agnès and I - As usual, don't forget to download the ones you like before I clean up my Picasa space]

Wilderness. The nirvana of trail running. The perfect recipe to find your inner self.

The race actually started the night before, with a pasta party at my house. We were 23 to celebrate the visit of Leo in the Bay Area this weekend. Leo has moved to Eugene, OR, last year. We were used to do tempo runs on Saturday morning at the Los Gatos High School track with Derrick, Bob and Tony (see Bob and Tony in my Boston Marathon race report). In 2005-2006, we extended the workouts with two speedwork sessions at Homestead on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:50 (am!). We still hold these sessions when we are not traveling, with Bob, and everybody's welcome. I named our group LEATHER for LEo Athletic Track Homestead Early Runs, so LEATHER we celebrated that night. I had also invited other running buddies from my club, the Stevens Creek Striders, as well as Tim and Amir (see Human Race). Perfect company to enjoy Agnès' pastas and deserts. Just passed on the wine and beer, not part of my pre-race diet. Leo and Bob in the hot tub:

Because Ohlone is a point to point course, there is a bit of logistic around. Runners are asked to park at the finish in Livermore, and take the bus (sic) to the start line. A bus? You must be kidding me, I thought a moment I joined the wrong race, after all, Bay to Breakers was starting at the same time, that same Sunday morning. Look at one of the limos! I don't think there is another ultra in the world offering such amenities...
Anyway, Agnès was nice enough to drive us (Peggy and I) to the start line, so we saved 1 hour of sleep. Everything counts for a long day on the trails. At every race there is more people I know, very enjoyable. I said it in other blogs, it is so special and different from the anonymous marathon crowds, and also from the pride of some runners in short(er) distance races. With Agnès at the start I could enjoy using the camera and taking pictures of familiar faces. Including the long line to the porta-potties, less than 15 minutes to the start... At least, this we share with marathoners! ;-)
Here are a few running buddies from our Saturday morning Mid-Penninsula runs, also called the "Pierre Tardif" group: Mike, Greg, Chris, Jean, Craig, Denise, Charles.

Also, from the Striders: Mark, Peggy, Christina, Charles, Terry, Dennis, Anil (and I! ;-). Peggy and Christina:

Agnès took control of the camera for the start. Among some great pictures, I particularly like this one, as we are taking off and all focusing on starting our clocks. No false start and, despite taking off for several hours on the trail, every second counts!
Just before the start, local runner (and body builder!), Will Gotthardt, stopped to introduce himself has he had left a comment on my Miwok post. He shared some tips about the course profile, which happened to be precious for me. Basically he told me the first hill was really really steep, but the second more gradual. Although so knoweldgeable about the course, and it was his first ultra, he started upfront and took the lead on a trail so steep, it seemed like we were climbing stairs. 2,000 ft in the first 4.5 miles, that's almost double Rancho San Antonio's PG&E (a South Bay park). PG&E (the trail, not the company!) is my favorite hill and mental training. Before Miwok I had done 4 of them (4x8 miles). According to the elevation chart, Ohlone represented 5 to 6 "PG&Es" in terms of elevation. Here is an overlay of Ohlone's elevation profile, with a simplisitic one of Rancho's PG&E, and the (in)famous Quad Dipsea.
After the first "PG&E" (1,550ft), we had a nice recovery down hill through some Alpine meadows. Cows on the side of the trail were wondering why we were rushing climbing to Mission Peak. A bull, right in the midle of the trail, started getting upset and nervous with the traffic, not sure how he behave with the rest of the pack. This reminded me of some runs in the French Alps, great memories. Very different from the woods we run in, on the other side of the Bay.
I passed Will after the meadows, getting in Kevin Sawchuck's footsteps, not far from Mark Lantz. Alterning power walk and jogging like us, Graham had already a few hundred-yard lead. Right before the sumit: Mark (Lantz), I, Try, Kevin, chasing Graham (photo credit:
Jeremy Graham, a student photographer, shot from the Mission Peak summit, courtesy of his friend Will Gotthardt):
Before the summit, we passed Lee Jebian who had taken an early start. Lee turned 65 on Monday, so a nice way to celebrate, with Winnie volunteering and crewing throughout the day. Such a nice couple, so dedicated to ultra, and appearing at so many events, to either run or help out!
Troy Howard passed me right after Mission Peak, in a section a bit too technical for the road shoes I had picked for the day, betting the cushioning will help on the downhill fire roads (Brooks brand, like Graham, but the Trance model for me). A bet which proved good quickly as we were flying down to the Laurel Loop aid station on a nice fire trail. Seems like I was the only one stopping to the aid station, albeit shortly, so I had to sprint to catch-up with the others. My marathon training gave me quite some speed in this first downhill and I caught up with Graham just before Sunol. Grabbed a peanut butter/jelly sandwich and got off as he just stopped for fluids.

So here we were, at the beginning of a 10-mile 3,200 ft up-hill. As we started the climb I told Graham that, if he'd wait for me at the finish, I'd like to interview him for Ultrafondus, a great ultra magazine in France. Nice stop at Backpack Area, greeted by legendary Ann Trason and Carl Andersen. Some food again for me, but not for Graham. Here is Ann, all smile at photographer, runner and blogger, Chihping Fu (more pictures of the course and runners in Chihping's Ohlone photo album):

I was quite intimidated to be in the race lead but felt the slope was not as bad as I feared from the profile. So we kept going and, by mile 13, Graham let me take the lead. Was nice to find the Goat Rock aid station, at about half way to the summit. Yet another 1/4 of a sandwich, electrolyte refill, 2 glasses of coke. All the way up I was thinking we will top at 5,000ft. So I kept looking at my GPS thinking we had way more to go. At the top, we had a short loop, allowing to see other runners. I saw Troy, Graham and Mark Tanaka, I was not sure where Mark Lantz was. We were still at 3,500 ft, so I was expecting another "PG&E", especially as I remembered the warning "at this stage you are not done with up-hills" in the course description posted on the web. Indeed, yet other steep climbs before and after Stewarts Camp and Schlieper Rock aid stations, making the presence of the volunteers in bright orange t-shirts even more welcome. Then, from the last aid station, Stromet Spring, a "chute" of 2 miles to the finish. Racing against the clock, although I didn't know what the course record was exactly.

A thrilling experience to finish first of course, but a lot of respect for Graham's performance who finished 2nd, shaving 35' off his 2005 winning time, passing Troy after the summit, all that after setting a course record at Quick Silver 50-mile, a week ago! Troy, Mark T and Mark L followed, under 5 hours. Kevin was next, happy to keep the (new) course record with a 101" margin. As for me, I did improve by 30' the 40-49 age group record, set by Mike Topper, whom I train with on Saturday mornings, and who completed 5 consecutive top 10 Western States finishes between 1998 and 2002. Records are meant to be broken, and will continue in the future for sure.

Great post-race buffet with an amazing and entertaining chef, who is now an artist, sculptor, yet remembers very well his cooking years!
Caren was the top woman, improving the course record set by Kami Semick in 2004, quite a reference! Interesting how Caren and I were both the Dick Collins Rookie awardees at Fire Trails 50 miles last year. Caren complained she was not feeling well at the start and the finish, but rightly noted that the steep profile may suit our short sizes better. Here is our "little" secret! ;-)
Graham was kind enough to respond to my interview questions, I learnt a lot on such an accomplished and cool athlete. Will work on the transcript shortly, although maybe only after next weekend WS training camp. Although meant to be published in this French magazine, some of you have asked to see it in English, so stay tuned...
A big thank you to the RDs, Rob and Larry for keeping this Ohlone Wilderness 20 year tradition so enjoyable, the outstanding support of the volunteers at every 5 miles, despite very remote locations, and the friendly ambiance among this 150-runner field.
Overall, it was hard on the legs, as expected. Wonderful Alpine landscapes. Good mental training, accumulating the "PG&Es". Good fluid and food management experience. Thrilling experience to run strong when asthma is not kicking in like at Miwok or Way (not) too cool. And with all that, I'm still amazed at how yesterday's Silver State must have been so much more brutal with 20,000ft elevation over 50 miles. If you look back to the above elevation charts, seems like there is no easy correlation between elevation and time. 4:20 last November at Quad Dipsea (a way more technical trail with hundreds of stairs), 4:30 in a 4xPG&E training run last month, 4:40 at Ohlone. A good potential "business intelligence" problem for mathematicians and physiologists. No matter what, there is alway farther and faster achievements in ultra. And back to the title, countless challenges to find your inner self.

Ready for more miles at training camp, then tapering in June!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Human Race 2007: Running Humanity and Humanitarian Running

[More pictures available at Agnès' Human Race 2007 photo album. If there are pictures you like, make sure you copy them before I clean up my Picasa space.]

108th race, 29th 10K. 10K, one week after Miwok 100K, quite a difference. Much less to narrate about the race itself, just 6.2 miles, flat fast race, less than 25ft elevation. And such a gorgeous day, with some breeze over the baylands. I was actually scheduled to participate in the QuickSilver 50K or 50M, but, after last week 100K, with some inflammation pain, my foot was whispering me to calm down, and join the family in this fun event.

A short race report then. A small elite field took the first positions at the start. A few familiar faces, I've done this race four times (2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007) and really like the outstanding organization (so professional and perfect), as well as the course, Shoreline, a park I've trained in for the past 8 years. As a matter of fact, I may come less often as my company, ILOG, is moving its headquarters from around the corner in Mountain View to Sunnyvale (Fremont and 85 for the local commuters). Just a few miles away from Google who drives the prices in Mountain View up so quickly. Chat with David Beauley, a faster Strider than I, who I haven't seen for almost 2 years. David and his wife adopted 3 sibblings (2, 4, 7) last year, it's great to see him almost in top shape with so little training and competition. Way to go Dave, and family! Here we are in the smoke of the gun (no kidding!).

Back to the race, same start for the 5 and 10K which always lead for a fast pace right off the starting line on the 10K. My Garmin indicated 5:20 when I passed 1 mile, following Eric (Albretch). I passed Eric in the second mile, we had 6 runners ahead of us. Two years ago, Eric pushed the pace at the turnaround, at mile 4, and won the Masters division then. I was expecting the same strategy, but we stayed together at a 5:35 pace. Three years ago, Eric tried to passed me at mile 5, so I was wondering if he'd do it again this year, and I didn't want to push too early. Small attempt which pushed me to switch gear, accelerating for the last mile, to a point I almost caught up with Jeff Hongo who took first in Masters, as I missed he turned 40 last year... Such a close finish as you can see below in the right chute!

34:55 versus 35:07 in 2004 and 34:57 in 2005, quite stable, replacing aging with more training. A good argument to prove that ultra running is not necessarily slowing you down. Like the previous years, and unlike 2003 when I clocked 32:50 on a shorter course, I believe the distance was exact, actually 6.32 miles on the Garmin. See overall results of the 10K.

So that's it for the race. The event is actually all about fundraising around the runs (5 and 10K) and walk (5K). Leading the Volunteer Center of Silicon Valley, Tim is doing an amazing job at reaching out to the community to raise money for dozens of local associations. I've known Tim around this special race as well as other local 5/10K races. Before giving his time to the community this way, Tim has lived through out the world and was directing the Moffet base before it closed. We are so bless to have Tim in the Bay Area. Not to mention the many other "volunteers in black" forming such a professional organization. And the "volunteers in blue", the color of their t-shirt this year. I'm sure this infrastructure could support one thousand more runners, please consider in joining the crowd if you were not part of it this year.
Started 27 year ago, The Human Race is actually held on "Mother's Day" weekend in 20 other locations in California. Tim is particularly proud of the level of fundraising from San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, well above $100,000.

On stage at the finish an amazing band was welcoming runners and walkers: the Spamtones.
Before the runners awards, Tim acknowledged the top corporate fundraiser, National Semiconductor again this year, with a record $45,000. That was the man and women "in blue", gathering around their head of Human Resources. Thank you NS!

Went on stage too, the most prolific individual fund raiser, Amir, from National Semiconductor.

Another long time friend and generous fundraiser of this event and other local races: Amir Shahkarami, from Coldwell Banker, sponsoring in particular Habitat for Humanity. The family with Amir and Tim:

Other corporate sponsors: AOL, PG&E, at&t, and my cherished shoe brand, Brooks (see my 10,000 miles in Brooks story). As I pay closer attention since I joined Brooks' Inspire Daily program, I could see more Brooks wore in the field. Run world, run!

Among the many associations raising money this weekend, a special project from Max' class at Cupertino High, to support a school in Kenya. Such a great initiative for teen, to expand their horizons beyond our wealthy Bay Area. I recognized faces from the cross-country and T&F team, but also from the amazing choir who gave us a great performance this Friday night. Readers you can contact them for a pledge or donation at mailto:kenyadream@gmail.com. They are in touch with a Kenyan graduate from UCLA, so the money will really goes to the school she went to in Kenya. Way to go, Tinos!

Kenya was quite a relevant topic today. Eric introduced me to his girlfriend, from Kenya, who ran Boston last month. And to the winner of today's race, trying to get into college to combine his passion and gift for running, with a great academic background. Keeping our fingers crossed for next week, Eric!

Tim also introduced to us the Green Challenge 07-09. I urge you to visit this website and hear what he says in the introductory video. In partnership with Disney, this is a program aimed at families to make our Valley sustainable, with individual and personal involvement to save our planet through local and actionable initiatives. A theme which I'll include in the Silicon French workshop about "Sustainability and I" I'm setting up for November (8-Nov-07) as part of our annual program on sustainable development.

As per the runners awards, too bad so many had already left. Right after or before the pizzas were delivered... 7 age categories x 2 races x male/female, 3 deep (bronze, silver, gold), equals 84 nominees!

Max went for silver in the teen 5K with 18:50 and I took silver too. Alex ran the 5K in 22:.... Not enough to get him a medal like last year, as he now joined the tough 13-19 age group. And Greg in ..... As per Agnès, the Mom of the weekend, she cannot run anymore, so we thank her for the pictures and crewing.

Hope to be back next year, calendar constraints permitting. Raising more money. And maybe faster, who knows? ;-)

Monday, May 7, 2007

Miwok 100K 2007: farther, with breathtaking views

Executive summary (for my bosses ;-). Perfect weather, cool in the morning, not too hot in the afternoon, spectacular views all the way, great field of runners, amazing times for the top ones. As per me, fast start which kicked asthma again around mile 20. Tough 20 miles then, and my pacer, Rob, helped staying afloat for the last 20 miles, a good training exercise. Overall, 10h53'53", about 1h15 more than what I was aiming at, yet a PR as I was a rookie on this distance. Thanks to the slower than usual pace and the walking on the uphills, no cramp, great food and fluid intake, no soreness the following day. Main take aways: start really slow at Western States and calm down in May.

See also:
Detailed race report

The day started early with breakfast at 3:15am, leaving the house at 3:45, meeting with Charles in Mountain View to carpool. Smooth ride, great pre-race briefing from such an experienced ultra runner. Between Tia's extensive website and Charles hints, I was starting visualizing the course. Just starting, running 100K would appear quite a different experience.

By 5am the parking of Marine Headlands was really getting packed, like we were going to see many whales that morning. Stan (Jensen) is volunteering at the Marine Mammal Center of Marine Headlands, but it's not the mammals he and we were coming to look at, it was la crème de la crème of ultrarunning, coming to compete for this Montrail Cup event. As part of his run100s website, Stan is the webmaster for Miwok.

5:30, we are all invited to cross the bridge getting us on the beach for the start. A long procession of 250 runners at dawn, with lively discussions about goals, if it will stay cold or get hot in the afternoon, coming races in May before Western States, who is a rookie today on this distance, etc. Quick briefing from Tia asking us to be fair on the course and having fun. Not sure, I think she mentioned the pain too ;-).

5:40: here we are, running in the sand. We usually don't care much about dirt and mud, but we were trying to avoid getting sand in our shoes right off the start. Fortunately, we were on the trail within a few hundreds yards, then on the road actually for the first hill, with magnificent views over San Francisco, the Golden Gate and the sun rising over Oakland. Started with what I thought was a slow pace, yet my Garmin was indicating 7:40 to 8 minute/mile pace. Chatted a bit with Mark Gilligan about our Boston marathons, and congratulated him for his win of the hilly Mt Diablo marathon last weekend. We caught up with Simon Mtuy (see below), and kept going. The 3 top females (Kami, Nikki and Bev) just in front of us, and a dozen other runners already half a mile ahead by the top of the hill. Sub-7 pace to plunge down to the Bunker Road aid station (water only) where I didn't stop, carrying two bottles and not having used too much fluid in this cool morning.

I kept Bev (Anderson-Abbs) at sight for the next hill and passed her from time to time as I was easier on the tricky down hills. Stayed with her through Tennessee Valley (11.9 miles), Muir Beach (16) and Pan Toll (21.7). Just before Pan Toll, we encountered a huge redwood tree blocking the pass. As I was 30" before Bev on this uphill, I first thought I missed a turned. I found a tricky way to "climb" the tree, while Bev found a much easier way by the right. Which I used on the way back. Anyway, it's after this little adventure which I started loosing my breath and feeling the asthma kicking in. I had the pleasure to see Robin at Pan Toll. Robin is our wonderful webmaster for our Stevens Creek Striders club [...]. He was volunteering, pacing, and his wife, Ali crewing for several other members of the club, see his race report [....].

So, learning from previous experiences, I had to let it go. First Bev, then Mark, then Whit Rumbach (see pictures of them and others, on the way back through Bolinas). Although relatively flat on the elevation profile, this part of the course is tough because the trail is very narrow. Heavy grass which masks the trail, and somehow sting your legs. So narrow that you sometimes lose balance like you were running on a string. The flowers were completing the picturesque, scenic and incredible views, but you had to keep your eyes on the trail. In one hand I was hoping not to see the family at Bolinas Ridge (28.4 mile); when I'm not in good shape like that, it makes me complain about myself. Anyway, there were not there yet, so I ate as much as possible before the long 7.2 stretch to Randall Trail (turnaround and 35.6-mile mark).

In my mind, we were getting down to the turnaround right after Bolinas Ridge. Actually not quite so, there is still a 3-mile rolling section before the "chute." Starting walking some of the uphills, even the short ones, I was expecting to cross the first runners. It's Simon who came from behind first; we stayed together for a quarter of a mile and I let him go too. Even before the steep 2-mile down to the Randall Trail aid station, I started seeing the first runners coming back. Gave a "Go Scott, Go Brooks!" to Scott Jurek who was in 8th position then. It's mentally challenging going down so steep Counted 20 runners in front of me by the time I got to the turnaround. Chuck Wilson was there again, as well as Lee and Winnie Jebian who have helped us at the Last Chance aid station the previous years. Tried to enroll Winnie again, she said only he I was desperate finding volunteers (see volunteer form if interested!).

Randall Trail aid station - 35.6 miles in, time to go back home, starting with..., well, the big hill we just went down. Yet this long 7.2 stretch to Bolinas Ridge which was really getting longer and longer, unable that I was to breath in the uphills. Among many others, crossed Chris and Charles (we do long runs together on weekends), Peggy and a few yards behind Penny (Striders), Chris(tine) Miller. This is the part of the out and back course where all the runners see each other.

Counted 15 runners passing me on this section. Was disappointed of course, and wondering if I'd find Rob Evans, my pacer at Bolinas. We had set a meeting time window of 11am-12:30pm and I was going to miss it by a few minutes. In addition, Rob has been sick all week and warned me the day before he may not show up. I was telling myself this might not be worth the ride for him anyway if I had to walk so much in the last 20 miles. Yet, I was very glad to see him as he promised. I briefly told him about the situation, as he was urging me to get some food and Coke and get off the station. Grabbed my first jelly and peanut butter sandwich which I ate on the trail. Not only my first of the day, but my first in an ultra event. Glad to see it worked out, a good test for Western States.

After Bolinas, we had a great ride downhill to Pan Toll (49.5). At least I could still run fast in the downhills, in apnea! Was good too to finally see Agnès and the boys at Pan Toll. Rob urged me to take four glasses of Coke, so much gas...! The way to Highway 1 Crossing (54.7) felt a bit longer with yet another hill and a few rolling section. Got passed by Susana (flying), back and forth with "Sam the Man" (per Rob's terms), who finally finished ahead. Happy to see Roger again at the aid station. Quick "car wash" (sponge and fresh water on the neck) and Rob pulled me in the first of the last two steep hills. Walk, jog, walk, jog, walk, etc., not used to be so slow. As we arrive at Tennessee Valley again (58.4), I was really thinking that we were done, and that the last hill wouldn't be such a big deal. Wrong assumption, it was getting worse and worse after each turn in the trail, and the clock was ticking, I had already been for 10h15 on this trail, really wanted to finish under 11 hours. Passed the summit at 10:40 and pushed as much as possible in the last 2 miles to finish in 10:53:53.

I know there is some controversy about the pacers in ultras. For sure, Rob helped me finding resources I thought I had lost by mile 20. Rob also allowed me to enjoy the last 20 miles more than the middle section, I'm very appreciative for that. In addition to his humor and understanding support, he was great at greeting the walkers on the trail, when I might not have the energy to do so. Like Charles was telling me in the car on the way to the start, pacers are important to do a good time. In this case, it wasn't such a good time, but there is no doubt Rob helped me mentally. As long as race management allows it in certain races, it's worth using this resource, like you can take advantage of the drinks and food provided at the aid stations, or decide to do the entire run without support, your choice! Anyway, a big thank you, Rob, and Kate for driving Rob up to Bolinas. We hope to see you on the trails together for a long time!

With such a good weather, and apparently amazing times for the top finishers (results not published as I write down this blog), a great ambiance was reining around a wonderful BBQ. Chatted with Greg Soderlund about details for the Last Chance Aid Station at Western States which I'll be co captain for the 4th year, along with Bob and Marsha, although not there on D-day but on the course this time.

A quick consultation with Scott Jurek about the Brooks Cascadias, and telling him I got selected into the Brooks Inspire Daily program. Scott admitted he didn't run as fast as usual because he mostly trained for road 100Ks this year. I didn't know it was making such a difference in training, glad to be back on the trails for the spring after the Boston training (see my Boston marathon race report).

And some dreams of hiking Kilimanjaro after chatting with Simon. Simon comes to California every year for about 2 months to run a few ultras including Western States. He really did a good job at describing his expedition business in Tanzania, we now have this destination in our family to do and "to go" list!

Kudos for a perfect organization. You can tell Tia not only knows the area perfectly for having grown up here, but also she is an expert at ultras from running them. Amazing volunteers, with so many familiar faces now, such a change from the impersonal crowdy marathons. The ultra community is still quite a small and connected world, such a gift. Thank you to all, the organizers, the volunteers, the runners, the pacers, the crews, for such a wonderful day, beyond the pain, and above the gain which comes with it!

Back to the title as a conclusion:

  • Farther: the good thing when you are a rookie at a given distance is that, as long as you finish, you set a PR. So a PR it is on this "farther" ever distance for me!
  • Breathtaking views: with such a weather, the views were really breathtaking as we say. So much that I lost my breath, really, literally. I was able though to slow down enough to contain the asthma and avoid coughing. I just couldn't take two breaths consecutively, which prevented me to jog in the uphills.